What are Push notifications?

Push notifications are short, pop-up messages that mobile apps send to users’ devices even when the app is not open. They are used for reminders, updates, promotions, and more.

Push notifications consist of a title, a message, and a URL. They can easily be enriched with various rich media such as images, videos, audio, and emojis to increase the open rate and offer more engaging messaging. 

They are a powerful mobile-first type of communication that can increase message visibility, drive retention, increase user engagement, boost conversation, create a connected user experience, etc. 

How do push notifications work? 

Push notifications can be cloud-based or app-based and are built to work with a server that provides the notification. 

An API allows cloud services to send push notifications to apps and websites. When an organization wants to send a push notification, they use the API to set the message and send it. 

Then, you receive push notifications on your mobile home or lock screen. These notifications can also appear on your app icon or desktop home screen when you open your browser and use it. 

They often contain text and rich media, like emojis. Some notifications include a clickable link or a call to action (CTA), encouraging users to take a specific action. For example, they may be prompted to complete a check-out or interact with a website or app. Android users may not have access to certain rich media content if they do not regularly update their phones. 

Not all browsers and operating systems support push notifications equally. The most used browsers like Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Android support push notifications, but the delivery and experience may vary. 

Opting out on Android devices requires users to take a few manual steps, which differs from iOS devices. However, Android has improved this process to make it easier for users in recent years. 

Organizations must understand the limitations and permissions of different devices, browsers, and operating systems to use push notifications successfully. This knowledge is crucial for ensuring effective push notification strategies. 

What are the benefits of push notifications? 

Use push notifications to: 

  • Increased message visibility: You can contact each user directly, bypassing crowded email inboxes and cluttered social media feeds. 
  • Enhanced user engagement: You can drive app usage, website visits, and specific actions with timely prompts and reminders. 
  • Improved retention & re-engagement: Push notifications let you stay connected with users and bring them back to your app or website. 
  • Boosted conversions: These notifications encourage desired actions like purchases, registrations, or app downloads. 
  • Enhanced user experience: You can provide valuable updates, personalized information, and a seamless journey across platforms.

What are the types of push notifications? 

There are four types of push notifications: mobile app, wearable device, desktop, and web. 

Mobile app push notification: a message generated through the downloaded app on your mobile device.

Web push notification: a message that appears at the top or bottom right-hand side of the desktop or mobile screen.

Desktop push notification: a message that appears on your desktop through installed applications on your laptop/computer.

Push notifications on wearable devices: notifications that appear on your wearable device that are synced with the notifications on your mobile device.

What are the different types of push notification campaigns? 

1. Transactional notifications 

Transactional notifications are messages sent based on a user’s interaction with your app. They carry the necessary information that your users need and expect. They provide critical status updates such as order confirmations, verifications, payment status, and delivery updates. 

Transactional messages include: 

These notifications are an essential part of a process initiated by the end-user, such as a recent purchase, and are triggered by specific user actions. They help reduce friction and improve the overall app experience by providing users with important information when needed. 

2. Marketing or promotional notifications 

Marketing notifications, also called promotional notifications, are unnecessary for the app experience. However, they are sent to engage and delight users, which in turn helps improve app retention and generate revenue. 

Some examples of marketing notifications are: 

  • Flash sales 
  • New product launch 
  • Reward program update 
  • Birthday/holiday discount 
  • News updates 
  • Promotions 
  • Back-in-stock notifications 
  • Survey and feedback request 

What is the difference between SMS messaging and Push messaging? 

Delivery and visibility

  • Push: Delivered instantly, even when the app is closed, but requires an internet connection. It can be displayed prominently on lock screens and notification centers.
  • SMS: Delivered directly to phone numbers, regardless of connectivity, but less visually prominent and might get buried in inboxes.


  • Push: Generally cheaper, often priced per notification sent or active users.
  • SMS: More expensive, typically charged per message regardless of delivery or engagement.

User opt-in

  • Push: Requires explicit opt-in from users within the app, fostering trust and control.
  • SMS: Opt-in varies by region and carrier, sometimes based on initial sign-ups or promotions. It may feel more intrusive.

Personalization and targeting

  • Push: This can be highly personalized based on user data and app behavior, allowing targeted messaging and campaigns.
  • SMS: Limited personalization options, mainly focused on basic segmentation based on demographics or opt-in categories.

Rich media and interactivity

  • Push: Supports images, GIFs, videos, and buttons for richer engagement and action within the app.
  • SMS: Limited to text and basic links, offering less engaging and actionable experiences.

Compliance and regulations

  • Push: Must comply with app store guidelines and data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA.
  • SMS: Subject to stricter opt-in requirements and spam regulations depending on region and carrier.

Engagement and conversion

  • Push: Potentially higher engagement due to direct delivery and visual prominence, but can be intrusive if not used wisely.
  • SMS: High open rates due to universal phone penetration, but click-through rates can be lower.

How do push notifications work? 

  • Users opt-in to receive notifications: This crucial step builds trust and ensures users are receptive to your messages. 
  • Your platform sends a notification to user devices: Platforms like Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM) or Apple push notification service (APNs) serve as intermediaries. 
  • A user receives and interacts with the notification: Clicking the notification can lead them to your app, website, or specific content within. 

Push notification dos and don’ts

Push notification do’sPush notification don’ts
Send clear messagesSending too many notifications
Create FOMO and a sense of urgencySending generic messages that aren’t relevant
Leverage existing subscriber baseNot sending welcome messages
Use social proofRepeating messages to the same audience
Segment customer base and customize notificationsNot tracking the right metrics
Offer easy opt-in and opt-out optionsClick-baiting
Use rich mediaSending notifications without CTAs or some end goal

Which metrics to track for optimizing user engagement? 

  • Opt-in rate: Measures the percentage of users who choose to receive your notifications. 
  • Browser and platform distribution: This helps you understand where your audience is and tailor messages accordingly. 
  • Delivery and click rate: Shows how many notifications reach users and how many prompt them to click. 
  • Conversion rate: Tracks how many clicks lead to desired actions like purchases or app downloads. 


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Feb 16th, 2024
6 min read